Tennessee Mountain Stories

Margaret’s Faith - what's it all about?

Last week I officially introduced Margaret’s Faith to you.  Today I thought I’d share some of the story with you…


Margaret Book Cover ART.jpeg

Margaret Elmore reads every printed word she can find.  She longs to see the glamorous and adventure-filled world that she’s read about.  But in 1863, her father is trying to keep his family out of the way of two warring armies.  That means staying close to home on their farm on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau. 

Then one October morning Union soldier Philip Berai wanders onto the farm.  Lawrence Elmore’s first thought is to protect the family and home from a possible raiding party.  But this lone soldier turns out to be a danger to only one member of the family, Margaret.  He weaves a story of emigrating from Italy with a dream of building a great fortune.  Eighteen year old Margaret is mesmerized and when Philip leaves a few days later, she runs after him.

Margaret turns a blind eye to the differences in this man’s values and her family’s.  She ignores God’s gentle prodding.

They marry and travel together to Chicago where Philip was living with his brother before the war.  When they arrive, Margaret quickly realizes there is little glamour in this city life.  But she has been raised to hard work and devotion to family.  Without question, she begins to make a home for her new husband. 

I hope you will enjoy walking with Margaret from northern Cumberland County, Tennessee to Chicago, Illinois. You will taste the life on a borderland farm – caught between two warring armies as the people of the Plateau were during The Civil War.   You may even feel the internal battle Margaret wages when her eyes are finally opened to her situation.  Can you identify with her struggle to find joy in the things the world considers desirable? Maybe there’s been a time when you’ve had to face The Lord and admit you rebelled against His will for your life.

You will see a young woman among evil surroundings trying to live a godly life.  And you will see her begin to bloom where she is planted.


The Great Night Sky

Meteor Shower.jpg

It seems to me that we are increasingly an indoor society.  We drive inside our cars which we park in garages which we access with a remote.  We pick up our food at drive through windows, have goods delivered to our door – it makes me wonder how long could you really go without your foot actually touching earth.

Now I’m a farm girl and somehow that means I gotta touch grass occasionally.  When I was in college – my first experience in the big city and surrounded by asphalt – I would get homesick for grass, I would crave the sun and wind on my face.  That’s never really left me yet I find myself getting caught up in running the house and running errands and my time walking in the woods or sitting in green pastures is frittered away.

Last week I did find the opportunity to sit out under the great night sky and watch the Orionid Meteor Shower and it renewed my need for open skies and fresh air.  I was out there at 5 a.m. and it was pretty chilly but it was wonderful.  My children were a little slower to join me but when they finally got out there they too could see the wonder of God’s work in the heavens and the cold faded into the background. 

I look at the vast expanse of space and see simple things (bright lights, twinkly stars, beauty).  But my husband was explaining how to navigate by the stars and teaching the children that men have been doing that for centuries, in fact they set out in tiny wooden ships across unknown waters guided only by those stars.  I’m way more comfortable marking my way by the rising of the sun against a mountain, unique trees or rock formations and other landmarks.  But never have I faced West and just started walking with no hope of a road sign or GPS signal. 

Those generations that went before were so brave.  Sure some immigrants were practically chased from their homes and they may not have been any more fearless than I when they climbed into the hold of a ship and drifted out to sea.  And the westward migration was driven by a quest for fortune, for a better life.   Still there were women who left everything they knew with no hope of ever seeing it again.  They left parents, siblings and friends.  They lived in a day when letters were their only hope of communication and regular mail deliveries were still a century away.  Yet that same bright sky I sat under just last week blanketed those adventurers so long ago; the same stars twinkled at them.  

I’ve been mourning the losses of several elderly relatives lately as I feel like so much history dies with them.  There are so many stories I haven’t heard and documented.  There are so many people I will never know from their memories.  Realizing the constancy of things like the night sky is somehow a comfort, isn’t it?

A Lifetime Gift

A couple of weeks ago I shared a quilt my great-grandmother made and I was thinking at that time how we all have a lot of stuff these days.  It seems there’s a storage facility on every corner and I think someone is making a fortune off of all our stuff!

Well you certainly know that I treasure every little trinket I can get my hands on from my ancestors – we can talk about whether or not that’s really healthy another time… But we also know that it’s easy to lose stuff.  My family lost my paternal grandmother’s home and all the plunder she’d collected over 84 years.  Our farm was burglarized and we lost things we’d been collecting for our whole lives.  Both of these losses were tough and frankly even after several years they are still tender subjects.

We enjoy giving gifts (maybe I should wait till Christmastime to publish this!) but in this time of plenty far too often our presents are quickly put aside and forgotten.  My Great Grandmother was a giver – I don’t think I ever left her house without some little thing in my hand.  Even if it were only a magazine, she found something she could give us – and most all of those things are long gone by now.

However, I have a couple of gifts Grandma Harvey gave me that no one can take away – skills!  She taught me to tat – now you may not even know what that is, but it’s an ancient method of lace-making.  And she taught me to knit.  I’m ashamed how long it’s been since I put one of these treasured gifts to use but I still have them.  Sure I’m slower now than I was when I practiced regularly and my stitches were never as even and steady as Grandma’s but once learned a skill like this is with you forever.

As she taught me I remember Grandma telling me that she was no hand at all to knit compared to her mother.  Grandma Hixson raised her family down in the Sequatchie Valley and she said girls would come from all over the valley to have Grandma teach them to knit, her skill was that widely known and admired. 

While I’m certainly a supporter of formal education, it seems a shame that America has more college graduates today than ever before yet we are losing skills like knitting and tatting.  Folks wouldn’t travel across the road to learn to knit and an old woman is often seen as a burden instead of an source of great knowledge. 

I will try not to jump off preaching here but I can’t let the moment pass without noting that the only truly lasting thing is from God and is, as Romans 6:23 says it, “…the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  If you’ve not claimed that one please feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to preach it for you – or better yet I’ll put you in touch with a real preacher!  No storage fees will be charged for this precious gift!

So what kind of skills do you have that are rare these days?  Do you make the best Pumpkin pie in the state?  Or can you sew anything you can see – or even imagine?  Does music flow from your fingertips on any instrument?  The next question is even bigger…who have you shared this gift with? 

Just as I’m trying every week to pass along the stories of yesteryear we need also to pass along our skills.


Remembering the Beginning

Are you ever amazed at how much time has passed since you saw someone or since some momentous occasion?  If you have children I’m betting you frequently look at them and think, “Where have the years gone?”

Well it’s been 5 years since I started Tennessee Mountain Stories and I can scarcely believe it.  Like so many things on the one hand it seems like only yesterday and on the other it seems that I’ve always shared these stories with you. 

The site actually launched on September 28, 2013 – but that was just introductory remarks.  Five years ago this week on October 12th was the first real story – and it’s still my very best one I think. So I wanted to share it with you here again.


1940’s era Station Wagon

1940’s era Station Wagon

Lacking good work opportunities on the Plateau, many families headed to the blue collar jobs in Ohio and Indiana.  When Uncle Tom decided he must move north, he loaded up his whole family - wife, six kids and his father-in-law, Bob.  Such belongings as would be needed for the journey and the stay up north were crammed-in wherever they would fit.  In fact, it seemed so many belongings had been packed that the kids were about to pop out of the car.  There was a head hanging out of every window.

Oh, and mountain folk are rarely guilty of letting a good hog-killing day pass… so you guessed it, Tom had butchered a hog before setting out.  There was no time for slicing, salting or smoking the pork, so the whole hog (minus the innards) was tied on top of the station wagon.

This is the picture that greeted his youngest sister when they stopped by her house.  Aunt Cecil stepped out on the front porch to speak to the family and see them off.  Grandpa lived with Aunt Cecil at the time, his wife having passed-on some years before. 

Grandpa was leaning against the house in a split-bottom chair and he scarcely stirred as his son and grandchildren pulled in.  He was unmoved by the hog resting atop the wagon. 

After a few words and well-wishes, but before the final round of good-byes, Bob managed to get his head out a window and called to Grandpa, “Dan’l (which is how you say Daniel in Appalachian) why don’t you come with us?”

With the invitation, Grandpa dropped the front legs of his chair to the porch, surveyed the situation and declared, “Ya know, I b’lieve I will.”

Aunt Cecil could hardly believe her ears.  She looked at her father.  She looked at her brother.  She looked at the station wagon.  She looked at the poor dead pig.  “Where are you going to put him?” she wondered.  But she said nothing.

Grandpa returned with his brown-paper luggage in hand, waved to his daughter and somehow managed to squeeze into the station wagon.  Miraculously, no children popped out.

And the family was off to find fortune – or at least livelihood – in Ohio.

But Grandpa Daniel’s hasty decision was not well thought-out.  After just a few days he was homesick and Tom had to load him back in the station wagon and drive right back to Tennessee.  The hog stayed in Ohio.


Yesterday’s Teddy Bears


Teddy Bears are a precious part of childhood.  I have a favorite bear that was handmade by my Great-Aunt Mary and loved nearly to pieces.  But I never gave much thought to the history of this snuggly toys until a friend told me of finding an old bear in an historic home I wrote about here

Leslie Gentry grew up across the street from the early 1900 home and his sister lived in this house.  When I began to ask him questions about the house he mentioned that he’d found an antique teddy bear in an old shed on the property.  My eyes popped wide open to hear that.  Then I got in my car one evening after church to find the furry friend in the passenger seat!  Now I just had to learn about him!

Stuffed bears may have been made by the original creators of toys – mothers – long before but the Steiff company began commercial production and sales in 1880.  About the same time, American toy maker Morris Michtom began marketing plush bears as well. 

The bears were instantly popular but it wasn’t until a cartoonist drew President Teddy Roosevelt with a cute old bear that the toys were named Teddy Bears.  And it was Mr. Michtom who first tagged his stuffed animals with the President’s familiar name. 

It seems that President Teddy Roosevelt was on a rather unsuccessful hunting trip in Mississippi in 1902.  Determined that the president succeed, some of the hunt’s organizers captured a bear which their dogs had wounded.  When President Roosevelt saw the animal tied to a tree he refused to kill him but because of his wounds he was ordered put down.  The American people loved their leader’s compassion and the title would stick to the plush toys from then on. 

As with all things, Teddy Bears have changed a lot over the past century.  Fur was originally made from Mohair, then silk and eventually synthetics were invented in 1938.  Stuffing was first “wood wool” which was long fine shavings and made a rather crunchy sounding bear.  After 1914 a tropical product called Kapok was used for stuffing, then textile waste or cork and rubber granules.  Even eyes and noses have changed with the first eyes being wooden and noses being sewn in thread. 

Well this adorable little animal that my friend shared with me seems to have all of the characteristics of the oldest bears.  He’s crunchy, has wooden eyes and a black string nose with felt pads on his feet an arms.  He’s not the softest bear but I can just imagine the child who is standing with his family in the earliest picture of the historic home playing endlessly with this little fellow.